With reports coming from Nunavut that online sales of country foods have decimated caribou herds on Baffin Island, management boards are eyeing the potential impacts of social media on other herds to the west.
The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board recently warned leaders in Nunavut that the practice of selling wild meat and fish online risks serious depletion of certain wildlife populations, especially the Southampton Island caribou herd, which has dropped from 30,000 to 5,000 in the last few years.
While social media has yet to catch on as a major tool for the country foods trade in the NWT, that doesn’t mean caribou in the territory might not be affected, according to monitors who say dwindling Baffin herds could see increased pressure on other caribou.
“Our concern is they’re going to shift their harvest over to the Qamanirjuaq, which is fairly close to that area, and I think that’s a fairly general concern – there’s low numbers of caribou all over right now,” said Earl Evans, chair of the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board (BQCMB).
Qamanirjuaq herds migrate between Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, heading as far west as Fort Smith, and even dipping down into Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“The Qamanirjuaq herd has been coming further and further west with all the development in Nunavut the last three, four years, and that’s a herd that comes to the west of Smith, that some of the people from Smith access,” Evans said.
Harvest in Nunavut doubled
Evans said the appearance of social media has doubled the subsistence harvest in Nunavut in recent years, putting wildlife at risk of over-hunting.
“With these internet sales they can post on the internet, ‘I want four caribou,’ and there’s hunters who don’t have jobs, so this is some form of income for them, and they go out and they’ll fill the order,” Evans explained.
Compounding the problem is that Northern airlines First Air and Canadian North subsidize a flat rate for shipping country foods as a way to ensure accessibility of meat across the territory and keep their planes full, Evans said.
Caribou are now being sold online in Nunavut for an average of $300-400 apiece, with some selling as high as $600 for one caribou – a hefty profit.
Not a problem in NWT, yet
While the Nunavut land claim allows Inuit the right to “sell, barter or give away, inside or outside the Nunavut settlement area, any wildlife that has been legally harvested,” different regulations exist in the NWT that could curb a similar pattern from arising there.
In the NWT, Aboriginal hunters – those with a General Hunting Licence (GHL) – may only buy, sell, barter or gift caribou meat to other GHL holders. Resident and non-resident hunters may not sell caribou meat without a permit or commercial tag.
“Illegally selling caribou meat is always a concern and there have been some instances where it has come up, but it is not something that occurs a lot,” noted Ella Stinson, spokesperson for the department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Education on ethics important: board
Regulations are one side of it, but education on sustainable hunting practices is also just as important, said Joe Tetlichi, who chairs the Porcupine Caribou Management Board in the Yukon and NWT.
“I can honestly tell you that this social media issue has never been an issue with the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, and I think it really has to do with the harvest management plan that we’ve incorporated,” he shared with The Journal.
A management plan for the once-dwindling herd was created in 2010, followed by an implementation plan that gives each involved government organization responsibility for a number of issues, including harvesting practices.
Tetlichi credited the education done in the Porcupine caribou communities, which incorporates traditional values into management, with ensuring people have a respect for the herds.
“A long time ago our people really respected the caribou and never used it for monetary gain – they shared a lot,” he said. “I think it’s given the responsibilities back to the various renewable resource councils, hunters and trappers associations, where we go out and get education information in regards to healthy hunting ethics. I think that goes a long way.”
But Evans said the issue in Nunavut is complex, since hunters often have families to support with no other income.
“If the numbers could sustain it, I don’t see anything wrong with a guy going out and working hard – it’s not easy work,” he said. “But at the same time, the numbers are dwindling and the herds can’t sustain this kind of hunting. The subsistence harvest has doubled since the internet sales and the low freight rates started.”
The BQCMB is currently awaiting results of the 2013 survey to assess herd strength and will address the issue of online sales at its Nov. 18-20 meeting in Winnipeg.